Get inspired to work out to a Latin beat with Zumba

photo: YMCA

Fitness fads come and go. In the 1980s we had Jane Fonda and Jazzercise, and step classes ruled the 1990s. But ever since Colombia-born fitness instructor, Alberto “Beto” Perez created dance-fitness classes set to Latin music, Zumba Fitness has ruled. Taught worldwide at gyms, community centers, yoga studios, and even nightclubs, this upbeat cardio conditioning is one of 2012’s top 10 fitness trends, according to a survey by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Here in the City you can find Zumba classes at any branch of the YMCA, the Jewish Community Center, and through Zumba SF, whose instructors hold classes at the San Francisco Youth Ballet Academy in the Sunset, the Eureka Valley Recreation Center and other locations.

The story of Zumba is often referred to as a happy accident. Perez was preparing to teach a regular aerobics class in Cali, Colombia, in the late 1990s when he realized he’d forgotten his music, so he improvised and used his own tapes featuring salsa and merengue (a type of ballroom dance) music. He created easy-to-follow moves that matched the music, and Zumba was born.

Perez brought Zumba to the United States in 2001. Classes are now taught to more than 12 million people in 125 countries in more than 100,000 locations. In addition to basic Zumba Fitness classes, there is Zumba Gold, a gentler, modified version geared toward baby boomers or those new to exercise, and Zumba Toning, which incorporates body-sculpting exercises.

What sets Zumba classes apart from regular aerobics are both its Latin-inspired music and its quick-stepping moves, incorporating salsa, merengue, flamenco, reggae, and even belly dancing. The classes are fast-paced and designed to make participants sweat by raising their heart rates and working their muscles, but a Zumba class feels a lot more like dancing than working out.

Jackie Wise, who founded Zumba SF and teaches at several locations including the Presidio YMCA, thinks the reason Zumba is so popular is mostly about the music.

“The music is very uplifting,” said Wise. “Many people come to Zumba never having heard Latin music, and the beat and the choreography make it easy to follow, so it creates a kind of party atmosphere. Unlike other exercise classes, the Zumba instructor faces the class like a participant. And the best thing about it is that it’s what we call ‘exercise in disguise.’ You’re getting a cardio workout, you’re using your thighs, hamstrings and oblique abdominals, but you’re not thinking about working out; you’re just having fun. And the key to regular exercise is if it feels good, you’ll keep doing it.” Many Zumba participants attend four or five classes a week, because if there’s one thing Zumba isn’t, is boring.

As with any new fitness program, check to make sure your Zumba instructor is experienced and has the proper fitness certifications. The best instructors often have a dance background. And Zumba experts recommend lightweight cross-training shoes rather than running shoes, which may be too clunky for Latin moves.

Presidio YMCA: 63 Funston Avenue (near Lincoln), 415-447-9622,
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco: 3200 California Street (at Presidio), 415-292-1200,
Zumba SF: various locations throughout San Francisco, 415-754-3406,

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